The Other Father Duffy

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 Last week I posted on Father Francis Duffy who served as chaplain of the Fighting 69th in World War I.  In World War II there was another Father Duffy,  John E. Duffy, also an army chaplain.

John E. Duffy fought in World War I in the Rainbow division, the same division in which Father Francis Duffy served.   After being ordained to the priesthood on June 28, 1928, he served as a teacher at Saint Wendelin’s in Fostoria, Ohio. 

 Father Duffy rejoined the army as a chaplain in 1933.  During the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in 1942, Father Duffy, then a major, was chaplain of the North Luzon Force, and then of the First Philippines Corp.  Father Duffy was a down to earth priest with a sardonic sense of humor.  He used to tell the troops:  “May the Good Lord take a liking to you, but not too soon!”.

Time magazine took note of Father Duffy during the fighting on Bataan:

“Father Duffy, World War I chaplain of the famed Fighting 69th, has a namesake in Bataan, Father John E. Duffy of Toledo, who received the decoration of the Purple Heart for “singularly meritorious action” when slightly wounded in action on New Year’s Day. He celebrates Mass at the front on an altar of ammunition boxes.”

After the surrender of the American forces, Father Duffy took part in the infamous Bataan Death March.  Bayoneted by the Japanese and left for dead, he was rescued by Filipino guerrillas.  After recovering from his wounds, Father Duffy directed guerrilla operations in four provinces under Colonel Claud Thorp, MacArthur’s guerrilla chief.  During this period Father Duffy encountered American guerrilla Ray C. Hunt, who noted in his memoirs that Father Duffy could swear profusely on occasion and wondered if he was equally eloquent in Latin.  He also recalled that Father Duffy liked to talk about his famous World War I namesake. 

Captured by the Japanese in 1943 he was tried as a guerrilla.  Father Duffy was acquitted and has the distinction of being the only allied officer to ever beat a Kempeitai courtmartial.  After his trial he was held as a POW.  Allied prisoners of Japan had a 37% deathrate.  By comparison, non-Soviet prisoners held by the Germans experienced a 1.1% deathrate.  In the prison camps in which Father Duffy was confined, he brought Christ, a robust sense of humor, practical assistance for sick prisoners and a will to survive.

As American forces closed in on the Philippines, American prisoners were shipped to other parts of the Japanese Empire aboard the aptly named Hell Ships.  Crammed into black holds with little water, almost no ventilation, a few buckets for sanitation, the ships were floating death camps.  Father Duffy gave first aid to prisoners on his ship, held mass and administered last rites to the many dying.  In one Allied air attack, the Japanese refused to notify the Allies of the ships that were carrying POWs, Father Duffy was heard praying, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”  At the end of the series of voyages Father Duffy had been wounded three times, and he was one of two out of seventeen chaplains who survived from the POWs transported from the Philippines.  

Held at a prison camp in Mukden Manchuria, Father Duffy miraculously survived the war.  After liberation, Father Duffy was hospitalized until October 31, 1946.  For his service in World War II Father Duffy was awarded the Legion of Merit, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart with five oak leaf clusters.  He retired from the army as a colonel.

Following the war Father Duffy served as a parish priest at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in New London, Ohio.  He also served as national chaplain of the American Legion from 1952-53.  Never recovering fully from his war wounds, Father Duffy died at the age of 59.  During his final illness he received this letter from General MacArthur.  Since his death in 1958 there has been a campaign to have Father Duffy awarded a posthumous medal of honor which has thus far been unsuccessful. 

Each year a scholarship is awarded to a student from the New London High School in his name from the Father Duffy memorial fund, and each year at the Department Convention of the State of Ohio, American Legion, the out- standing chaplain in the Legion for that year is given the Father John E. Duffy Memorial plaque.  A book about Father Duffy has been recently published.  Half a century after his death, Father Duffy is remembered. 

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  1. Most excellent post, Don. A truly inspiring story of a noble Warrior/Melchizadech. May his gallant soul intercede for us wimps down here.

  2. “By comparison, non-Soviet prisoners held by the Germans experienced a 1.1% deathrate.”

    That was funny, ‘non-Soviet prisoners’. What is it with Russians that Europeans just find awful with?

    Speaking of this I heard a Polish joke that goes something like this:

    When a Pole was asked what he would do if his country were attacked on both sides by Germans and Russians he replied, “the Germans first, then the Russians”.

    Then the Pole was asked why the Germans first?

    The Pole replied, “business before pleasure”.

  3. Oh, and Our Lady of Lourdes in New London is part of our K of C council here in Norwalk. I was hoping you’d get around to doing a post on Fr. John Duffy. Good to see one our local priests highlighted here.

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